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Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category


The Higher Truth

What are the limits of scholarly study in the search for spiritual truth?

"We are not looking for a reality without as much as one within."

— Augustine

About thirty five years ago I began paying wary attention to my mystical intuitions. Unlike some, this subtle shift in awareness wasn’t the product of any life shattering experience or profound revelation. It was more an abstract acknowledgement that maybe there was something out of the ordinary to those deep intuitions and odd events occasionally punctuating my thoughts and experience; something suggesting the possibility of hidden forces or some kind of spiritual dimension to my existence. By nature a rigid empiricist I was convinced there was a sensible explanation for these rogue impressions. I subsequently began a casual pursuit of trying to link spiritual and mystical phenomena to science and reason. However, during the process something unexpected happened.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 27 May 2018 12:33
A Weekend With The Shaman

Classical shamanic practice has generated a renewed and widespread sense of interest within modern spiritual seekers. At issue is how well traditional shamanic concepts and techniques transfer to the denizens of contemporary societies. Can a practice considered by many to be an archaic remnant of earlier cultural thought worlds square with our current scientific and philosophical perspectives of existence? A weekend seminar sponsored by one of the anthropological fields leading authorities on shamanism may hold some revealing insights into these issues.

Michael Harner is an anthropologist and one of the world’s leading authorities on shamanism. Many consider shamanism an archaic and superstitious remnant of primitive and traditional cultures. However, broader awareness of individual claims of spiritual experience and a wider recognition of unseen forces by the physical sciences has rejuvenated contemporary interest in shamanic practice.

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Last Updated on Friday, 25 July 2014 12:25
The Morality Of God

In Search Of An Ultimate Ethos

With each passing year science and philosophy continue to offer more rational and persuasive explanations suggesting the original force from which all existence springs may contain a distinctive intelligence. Those who’ve never doubted the existence of such a creative, thinking ultimate power have traditionally assigned such an entity a wide variety of different names.  The theistically inclined freely use the word “God” to personify this cognitive cosmic source.  Those more circumspect favor such titles as Initial Being, Ground of Being, Cosmic Awareness, Ultimate Intelligence, Essential Consciousness, The One, The All or dozens of other cautiously crafted appellations.  By any other name, the attributes we ascribe such a force show a predictable similarity.  For most, such an entity would be imbued with three core attributes: initial creative power, Ultimate intelligence and moral authority. While the implications of the existence of any of the above characteristics are unfathomably significant, we mere humans seem particularly obsessed with the morality issue.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 12 March 2017 08:55
Perils Of The Examined Life

The Neoplatonist Dilemma

Any inclined to study the nature of being best heed the following advice: don’t go shopping for Ultimate truth unless you’re damn well ready for the consequences.  Such words may seem harsh but experience suggests they’re true.  Contrary to what many may think, gaining a better sense of one’s place in the grand scheme frequently depresses rather than ennobles.  Nowhere is this bitter quandary more evident than within the study of Neoplatonism.  Though long considered one of the cornerstones of mystical theory, Neoplatonism often stimulates an all too familiar pathology; desperate souls searching for existential meaning find themselves cast into the nihilistic void of personal absurdity.  Their new found ontological insights offer very little in the way of individual purpose or ethical direction.  Sometimes it gets worse. 

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Last Updated on Sunday, 5 January 2014 09:35
Circular Reasoning
Barbury Castle Crop Circles

The Barbury Castle crop circle above appeared on 7/16/1991. Creating the impression of a tetrahedron, the distance from the center of the formation to the outside of any of the three surrounding circles is approximately 180 feet. Courtesy of bibliotecapleyades.net

Assessing The Mystery of Crop Circles

Significant existential insights usually come in small and discreet forms. The novelties within the movement of sub-atomic particles, the existence of DNA or the faint signal of some distant cosmological process are so subtle as to be undetectable through ordinary sensation. Rarely is the perception of our being radically challenged by the sudden appearance of unknown phenomena of massive proportion. However unlikely, many believe precisely such a process is occurring throughout the farmlands and pastures of our planet. They claim profound messages from an undetermined source are being encrypted within the sprawling geometric patterns and pictograms found in crop circles. Long a subject of curiosity, there’s no denying the intricacy and elegance of the circle patterns arouses a sense of the mystical within the minds of human observers. But there’s more. For many, the geometry of the circles seems to stimulate a psychological resonance of a deeper recognition — something expanding the boundaries of who and what we are, something integrating us within a higher field of being. It’s easy to understand why many feel the circles to be the work of forces outside the mundane.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 12 March 2017 08:57
My Friend The Witch Doctor
Animal skulls at the Lome fetish market

Animal skulls at the Lome fetish market

Animist Practice In Yorubaland

In many societies there exists an ever widening chasm between the ideals of their mythological heritage and the activities of ordinary life.  It often seems with every new nugget of information and technological innovation the relevance of cultural myths and legends as templates of practical action in daily existence recedes.  Their pragmatic authority marginalized, traditional mythology tenuously survives as an existential metaphor of the higher, more abstract ideals of existence as yet not fully explained by contemporary knowledge.  Societies continuing to live in accord with these “archaic,” metaphysical notions are widely considered to be uneducated, superstitious throwbacks destined to eventual doom by their lack of modern awareness.   Possibly the most conspicuous examples of such retrograde behavior lies with cultures who believe in the active, unseen role of spirits; those referred to as “animists.”  However, closer examination of the nature of animism suggests modern judgments may be in need of modification.  Could animist belief and ritual reflect a deeper more accurate ontological understanding than many realize?   Is it possible in many ways the advancements of science are leading us back to the essential truths of our distant mythological past?  The traditional Yoruban cosmology of western Africa may be a relevant case in point.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 5 January 2014 09:39

It’s often assumed those living in more traditional cultures have a greater degree of metaphysical awareness and lead more spiritually oriented lives than their modern counterparts.   To varying degrees virtually all who study Transpersonal Anthropology harbor this essential bias.  Many claim traditional living provides surroundings and conditions more conducive to recognizing the greater, more essential spiritual truths of human existence.   They expect the inhabitants of these favored cultures to be more receptive to metaphysical and psychic phenomena and live in greater communion with the fundamental forces of being than those of contemporary societies.  It’s an easy assumption to make.   Modern peoples are frequently perceived as spiritually compromised owing to their isolation from nature, materialistic priorities and their slavish devotion to the soul stifling positivist paradigm which devalues the power and influence of the mystical and transcendent.  These assumptions may create a perplexing situation for those interested in transpersonal or psychic studies as they frequently fail to square with observable reality. 

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Last Updated on Sunday, 26 February 2017 10:11
The Intuitive Truth

Observations On The Work Of Sri Aurobindo

In the world of Transpersonal studies mystics and theorists rarely mix.  In truth the relation between the two is often filled with mutual disdain and a mistrust bordering on antagonism.  Mystics frequently view theorists as rigid, empirically compulsive, soulless thought brokers whose need for evidence, order and explanation drains the metaphysical of its wonder and divinity.  Anxious to return the favor, theorists often deride the mystics as starry eyed idealists totally devoid of the detachment and critical abilities necessary to discriminate fact from fantasy.  The hard reality is both remain dependant on the other.  Without mystical experience theorists would have nothing to underlie their studies and without theorists mystics would have little to validate their experiences and impressions.  Of course, the line between the two is never so neatly drawn.  Few have heard of the transpersonal theorist whose interest doesn’t stem from some personal spiritual episode or intuition.  Nor have I met the mystic lacking a theory as to how their impressions derive from and square with the physical world. 

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Last Updated on Thursday, 26 September 2013 01:03
Sacred Sounds

Searching for the mystical within music

From the onset of the written record it’s apparent many have considered music a form of sacred expression.  Regardless of form or instrumentation, the relation of music to the ultimate forces of existence figures prominently within every culture and permeates our shared history.  Those more profoundly affected claim music to be the embodiment of the Divine.  Many of greater circumspection may conceive of music as merely a representation of the divine or, if less theistically inclined, the reflection of some kind of cosmic existential order.  Semantics and nuance aside, music has always been idealized as a medium through which the higher forces driving existence may be known.  This lofty concept has long been propagated, formalized and exploited by powerful spiritual institutions in whose trust the sacred remained.  

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Last Updated on Sunday, 12 March 2017 08:59

There comes a time in life when many begin reorienting their priorities to a more spiritual trajectory.  In numerous cultures this transition is an expected and time honored tradition for those of a certain experiential stage.  Secure in their identities, their position in society and the well being of their families many begin abandoning their worldly concerns to work on understanding and pursuing the higher elements of existence.  However, this is not always a joyous process spawned by personal satisfaction.  In his book Embodied Spirituality in a Sacred World, (2003, SUNY, Albany,) Michael Washburn claims this transition often occurs because social and personal routine creates a sense of deep alienation which in turn stimulates a long dormant psychological realm within the human mind.  For Washburn this “crossroads” stage serves as the fulcrum for a detailed examination of the process of human psychological and spiritual development from the neonatal stage all the way to full spiritual awakening. 

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Last Updated on Thursday, 6 October 2011 04:22